Last Chance Caffè before the Land of Laa – ay Posted by Geoff on Oct 11, 2013 in Culture
Part 1. The Sad farewell
We’re heading north, the vast flat expanse of la Pianura Padana begins to undulate, the first sign that we’ll soon be leaving l’Italia and entering la Svizzera. But before we cross that border we have something very important to do. We pull off the autostrada into a familiar service station. The car doesn’t need fuel, but we do, and this humble looking establishment is our last chance to savour a genuine cappuccio (cappuccino) before we pass into the lands of the Northern ‘barbarians’, where our treasured beverage becomes either too expensive, too disgusting, or both at the same time!
Maybe you think I’m exaggerating? What a shame I didn’t have my camera with me, because I would have taken you a nice photo of the desperate crowd of ‘last caffè-ers’ huddled around the bar, the barista (bar man) with his arms flailing around like a maniac octopus trying to keep up with the orders, and the girl who was working relentlessly to liberate il banco (the bar) from the precarious pyramidal piles of empty coffee cups. Welcome to the Last Chance Caffè, our pet name for this otherwise unremarkable motorway service area.
Part 2. The Confusing Arrival
We’ve made it to Good Old Blighty, relatively unscathed apart from an unpleasant brush with a cup of something insipid masquerading as caffè in a Belgian youth hostel (yes, we should have known better!). An emergency thermos flask helped fortify us by furnishing extra cups of tea along the way. But now we’re in England, the ‘Land of The Cup of Tea’, and everything will be all right … won’t it?
Our brave little FIAT Punto, who’s feeling very proud of herself for having carried us across Europe, is in need of a drink of good old 95 octane. And we are not adverse to the idea of a jolly nice cuppa. But wait, what’s this, as I cue to pay for the petrol I discover that the payment area is also a ‘bar’, well how chic! And sure enough as I stand uncomfortably in the ‘queue’ (Note: not pronounced kwayway, as an Italian might expect!, but what a peculiarly British invention, does now one trust anyone?) the man in front of me orders something called a ‘Laa – ay’. What on earth could that be? I ask myself, glancing suspiciously up at the menu …
… and yes there it is, confirmation that my fellow countrymen and women have totally lost the plot: Latte £2.50. “Is that a normal laa – ay or an extra laa – ay?” the employee asks innocently. I writhe and cringe with embarrassment and supress the urge to shout and rant at the other customers:
1) IT’S PRONOUNCED LATTAY NOT LAA – AY, THAT’S NOT SO DIFFICULT IS, IT?
2) LATTE IS ITALIAN FOR MILK, NOT HALF A LITRE OF DISHWATER SERVED IN A CARDBOARD MUG.
3) IF YOU WANT LATTE MACCHIATO (its correct name) GO TO ITALY.
4) WE’RE IN AN ENGLISH SERVICE STATION AND THEY DON’T EVEN HAVE TEA ON THE MENU … WAKE UP PEOPLE … YOU’RE THROWING AWAY YOUR HERITAGE!!!
But I don’t, of course. Instead, I meekly wait my turn in the queue, pay for my petrol with a smile and a thank you, then go back to the car to rant about lost cultures with poor Serena.
Part 3. … and they all lived happily ever after!
I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to hear that Serena and I finally found a fantastic tea rooms in Lavenham, Suffolk (Munnings Tea Room, very friendly staff), not far from my birthplace, and not a Laa – ay in sight. A genuine pot of Assam tea was placed before us on the lace tablecloth, along with one of the most heavenly home made scones we’ve ever tasted, served with enough clotted cream to sink a battleship, the same amount of butter, strawberry jam and a real strawberry sprinkled with sugar. Now this is the British cultural equivalent of a great cappuccino and a lovely warm brioche. This is what coming to Great Britain is all about!
My message to you: Treasure what’s best in your culture, protect it , in fact: demand it! Don’t sell yourself short, for example, by ordering crap masquerading as cappuccino or latte macchiato in a British service station. If you don’t buy it they can’t sell it. Cultural traditions are an essential part of who we are, but sometimes we take what’s close to us for granted and then you find that, in the immortal words of Joni Mitchell’s song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’: “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
Right, time for another cuppa, methinks.
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